Bailiffs were instructed almost 13,000 times in London last year to collect debts from people falling behind on their council tax bills, a report reveals this week.
Campaigners have voiced that Government benefit cuts have impacted upon the capital’s poorest families, with those targeted including the “working poor” and unemployed, people with disabilities and carers. Many people who were formerly exempt or had subsidised council tax bills are now having to pay by cash-strapped councils who have had Government funding slashed by £1.3 billion in the past two years, the report states.
Too Poor To Pay, by the Child Poverty Action Group and Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, revealed that over 100,000 people were summonsed to court and charged almost £9 million in court fees, this is in addition to their council tax debts.
According to responses under the Freedom of Information Act, the use of bailiffs by Bromley and Waltham Forest councils rose by half compared to the previous year, 2,194 times and 999 times respectively.
In Lambeth, where you will find London’s highest number of food bank users, the bailiffs made 1,605 visits. In Harrow, a woman with a severe mental health condition was summonsed over a £34.50 bill, when the bailiffs arrived the demand was £474. Thirteen councils refused to provide any data or said they did not hold it.
The least number of debt collections were made in Chelsea and Kensington, where bailiffs were sent out just twice, and following this Wandsworth with 161 visits. Islington, Bexley, Southwark and Brent Councils said that they did not use bailiffs.
Council tax benefits were cut in 2013 and replaced with locally run schemes. Only Tower Hamlets and Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Merton, Hammersmith & Fulham plus the City, cover full payments.
Collectors were also sent to areas such as Reading.
The report called for the return of exemptions or for all boroughs to cover the worst off. Joanna Kennedy, chief executive of Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, said:
“Around one third of council tax support recipients are in work and some councils report that the number of working claimants is increasing. This is a scandal ministers said they would tackle, but the problem is getting worse.”
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